Ask a Therapist: Do I Have to Keep Listening to a Friend Who Always Has a Crisis?

I Need Help! How To Get It

Ask a Therapist: Do I Have to Keep Listening to a Friend Who Always Has a Crisis?

By: Sarah Fader

Updated November 10, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Galyen, LCSW, BC-TMH

Where To Go When You Need Help

When you find yourself juggling multiple concerns (including stress, work, relationships, mental and physical health issues, and more) and thinking, «I need help,» it's natural to want and need to talk to someone about your thoughts.

Everyone needs a listening ear sometimes. When you can't find someone to talk to, it can be painful. Understandably, you would want to vent to a friend or loved one about what you're experiencing.

As much as others care, you are the one who ultimately has to handle your challenges. That might sound scary but think of it as an empowering statement. You have the tools to change your life for the better. That doesn't mean you can't ask for help, and you can.

The dialogue about mental health is changing rapidly, and people are more apt to speak about their goals and needs.

If You Feel You Need Someone To Talk To, Know That You’re Not Alone

Don’t Wait — Click Here To Talk To A Licensed Therapist TodayThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.


Getting Help For Life's Challenges

How do you cope when you face challenges in life, especially those related to mental health? The instinct is to find someone to talk about these topics with, but that's not always possible.

If you could let loose about your issues, who would tell? Naturally, you talk to friends and family. In addition to confiding in the people close to you, there are other ways to find support.

Going to counseling or seeing an online therapist can help you when you're having a hard time managing mental health concerns. Your friend isn't your therapist. It's essential to be careful when you're asking for support from those close to you.

There's a balance between being a supportive friend and acting someone's counselor. You want and need a friend to be just that, a friend.

On the other hand, a therapist is a dedicated mental health professional whose job is to help you. They want to help you navigate your thoughts and emotions when you need help. Many people in your position turn to mental health professionals to talk about their issues.

Therapy helps people figure out how to get through tough times. According to the American Psychological Association, half of the American households have a family member in therapy or counseling.

Seeking mental health treatment is an excellent way to manage symptoms, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and take control of your life once more.

Know When To Get Help

There's only so much that friends and family can do to help. Getting emotional support and help matters, and you're entitled to have your feelings heard and validated. There are times when a therapist can step in and help you develop coping skills to manage your life challenges.

Let's say that you're experiencing constant panic attacks. You've talked to your loved ones about your anxiety, and though they empathize, they don't know how to help you with the condition.

A trained therapist can help you learn grounding techniques to use when you're experiencing a panic attack. If you're interested in online therapy, many counselors at BetterHelp understand how to help people manage anxiety.

If you have a life challenge and you can't seem to solve it on your own, counseling can help. Your therapist wants to support you and help improve your mental health. That's where BetterHelp comes in.


BetterHelp Wants To Help

After reading this article, if you're considering meeting with a therapist to help you, we're glad. You can get the emotional support and help that you need.

Finding a therapist is a great first step to helping yourself! If you're struggling with mental health issues, anxiety, depression, or dealing with a bad breakup, these are all concerns that the counselors at BetterHelp understand and can help you with. They want to help support you through these obstacles.

You can talk to them about whatever challenges you're experiencing and get the guidance and empathy that you deserve. The counselors here at BetterHelp are waiting to support and help you in the way that you deserve.

Therapist Reviews

«Rebecca has helped me sort out things and reflect on things in a way I have never experienced with a face-to-face counselor. I can be way more open through messaging than face to face, so this works perfectly for me.

She addresses and helps with many different aspects at once. She sees the overall picture and helps me to do the same.

The way I look at things has changed, and my quality of life and the quality of my children's lives have improved very quickly in a short time.»

If You Feel You Need Someone To Talk To, Know That You’re Not Alone

Don’t Wait — Click Here To Talk To A Licensed Therapist Today

«My counseling experience with Jessica has been wonderful. Not only has she been kind and attentive, but she has also been encouraging and supportive.

Even though we are in different time zones, it has never been a barrier to communication. She would still respond to my text whenever she could.

I'm grateful to have found her as my counselor as I no longer feel that I'm fighting alone.»

It's Always A Good Time To Get Help

The therapists at BetterHelp are trained to help you improve your mental health. These are not life coaches, simply suggesting you do what your heart tells you. These are licensed therapists who can help you better cope with life and stress with specific solutions for the challenges you face.

There are many health resources online, and despite the prevalence of these sites, it's still hard to find quality providers. Think about how relieved you feel when you find a competent medical provider. Locating a great doctor is gratifying. Many health professionals aren't experienced with mental health.

That's why it's important to find a doctor who cares about your whole well-being. When you find a great therapist, it's the same feeling. You will experience relief when you click with an online therapist. There are so many ways to find a therapist, and seeking one online is easy.

Why not give it a shot? Get quality mental health services.


Can Online Therapy Help?

Online therapy is a great option over in-person therapy because over 70% of those who need mental health treatment do not get it. Why? Many times, it is because of fear or embarrassment. Most patients with clinical depression or anxiety disorder have a hard time getting motivated in the first place.

They might need to find someone to talk to about their symptoms and experiences, but they don't know where to look. It's hard to locate a therapist, and once you find that person, it can be difficult to keep motivated.

Let alone trying to talk yourself into finding a therapist you , making an appointment (which is often months away), and then actually getting up the courage to go.

Talking to a therapist or counselor online from the comfort of your own home makes it so much easier to get the help you need.

It is also much easier for those who do not have access to transportation, people who live in rural areas, individuals who have physical limitations or disabilities, and those who are extremely busy.

You can «talk» out your feelings with your smartphone or tablet while your kids are playing at the playground or while you are in the car between appointments. 

It's Easy To Start Online Therapy

With traditional therapy, it can be a hassle. You drive to the clinic, fill out a form, and then wait. Beforehand, you may call or visit, then wait for a few days, even though you may need to talk to someone as soon as you can because you're dealing with anxiety, stress, or other mental health disorders and concerns. When you finally realize, «I need help,» waiting can feel forever.

With online services BetterHelp, it's easy. Just download the app, read the terms of service, enter some information, including your payment method or health insurance, and get started.

Live Chat

What makes online therapy so nice is that you can easily have a live chat with a qualified professional. An online chat may seem an odd way to communicate, especially if you're older.

However, young people realize their potential. Chat therapy allows you to talk to someone and get the emotional support you need right at the moment.

When you are having a crisis, chat therapy can act as your crisis line, in a sense.

You can talk to someone in the United States or around the world. When you're dealing with a b stress, depression, or another problem, a licensed therapist can provide support.

a real therapist, everything is confidential, and therapists don't judge you but offer advice from a neutral perspective.


Alternatively, you can chat with an online therapist through their email address. Emails take longer to respond, so it may not be good if you need to talk to someone right then and there. However, email chat is a good move if you have mild anxiety, stress, or a problem with a friend or loved one.

a regular chat, email allows you to type anywhere, but you can create a longer message and feel you ​​have more time to write out your message. The same applies to the therapist. They can take more time to respond and give you a fuller message to help you live a good life.

Video Chat

Video chatting used to be difficult. Delayed messages, bad signals, and other problems polluted it. Now, you can talk to someone through video chat, and it's usually easy to do so.

Video chat can give you an experience as close to the real one as possible, plus it's just fun to do.

Chatting with someone about your stress, depression, or another problem, and then hearing them give you advice, feels so nice.

How To Get Started has more than 2,000 licensed professionals available to help you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they have a free trial, so it will not cost you anything to check them out. To get started, all you have to do is answer a few simple questions.

You do not even have to give your name if you want or need to remain anonymous. After that, create a free private account. Still, there is no need to use your real name if you do not want to. The therapists at BetterHelp provide excellent support and help for their clients.

They understand you're dealing with various life issues and want to help you with your emotional needs. When you search the network of online counselors here, you can choose a provider with experience in your particular mental health issue.

Remember, help is out there! Don't be afraid to take that first step.


4 Reasons To Set Boundaries With Friends About Emotional Labor

Ask a Therapist: Do I Have to Keep Listening to a Friend Who Always Has a Crisis?

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

Let’s say you’re feeling stressed out by something happening in your life right now.

You really need to vent and talk about it with someone, and you’ve got a friend who you know would be a great listener or who would be able to understand what you’re dealing with.

Do you simply send them a bunch of texts about what’s going on right then and there, or do you first send a text to ask if your friend is available to talk?

Now pretend you’re a person going about your day, and you suddenly get a bunch of texts from a friend who’s freaking out about something they’re dealing with right now. Let’s say that in this moment, you yourself are also dealing with a lot of stress over something in your own life. How do you respond?

For many people, the answers to these questions are very obvious and instinctual. But there actually seems to be a pretty sharp divide over the appropriate way to navigate these situations with friends.

Setting boundaries vs. being there for your friends. 

A recent thread from wellness educator Melissa A. Fabello, M.Ed., Ph.D., has triggered a pretty heated debate on social media:

In the thread, Fabello praised a friend who texted her asking if she had the “emotional/mental capacity” to listen instead of just launching into a vent session without warning.

Fabello noted that some friends are close enough that they don’t need to ask her because she’d always make herself available to help, and that sometimes when someone is in a true crisis they just aren’t able to check in first before asking for help.

But in general, she believes it’s good practice to check in with someone to make sure they’re in a mental state where they’re able to offer support.

“Asking for consent for emotional labor, even from people with whom you have a long-standing relationship that is welcoming to crisis-averting, should be common practice,” Fabello writes later in the thread.

“Too often, friends unload on me without warning – which not only interrupts whatever I'm working on or going through, but also throws me into a stressful state of crisis mode that is hard to come down from.

Unless it is TRULY an emergency, that's unfair.”

(It’s worth giving the whole thread a read.)

Some people criticized the idea of describing supporting a friend as “emotional labor,” suggesting it makes friendships feel transactional and commodifies our gestures of care as just another item on the capitalist market. Others wondered if we’re all starting to push away our friends and social connections in the name of “self-care,” further contributing to the loneliness epidemic. 

“At what point does ‘self-care/self-preservation/boundaries’ cross into ‘being a bad friend with 100% immunity,’”’s editor-in-chief Tyler McCall tweeted in response to the debate. “I have a really hard time imagining telling a friend who needed me , ‘sorry dude I'm at capacity! Can I refer you to someone else?’ as though I were an in-demand facialist or something.”

We reached out to three therapists to get their takes on this.

All three therapists agree that, yes, friends should ask permission before initiating conversations that require emotional support.

Here’s why: 

1. Sometimes taking care of friends is hard. 

“Supporting a friend in need is emotional labor,” states California-based therapist Alyssa Mancao, LSCW. “By calling this emotional labor does not in and of itself make it ‘bad’ or transactional.” 

The term emotional labor was originally developed by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in the 1980s to describe the work of regulating and masking one’s own emotions to manage a customer’s emotions, usually in reference to service work.

Some people argue the term is meant to be a critique of capitalism and the way it commodifies our very emotions, and it thus should not be used in other contexts.

Other people believe the term has now expanded to become a general way to acknowledge any invisible emotional work, in any part of our lives.

Specific terminology aside, what’s most important to acknowledge here is that taking care of people—even people you love—can sometimes be difficult, stressful, and disorienting.

“Emotional labor is the process by managing and regulating your own feelings in order to perform a task; in these situations, the tasks at hand are to listen, provide support, and problem-solve depending on what the asker is looking for.

In order to do this, the friend has to be fully present and be able to momentarily put their own issues to the side in order to engage thoughtfully and mindfully. Doing this is not easy,” Mancao explains. “Now imagine doing this often and without warning.”

2. There’s a way to set boundaries while still being loving and supportive. 

“Friends are not your therapists, and being a good friend does not mean abandoning your wellbeing to take care of others,” says sex and relationships therapist Shadeen Francis, LMFT. “Yes, friends will extend themselves and make sacrifices for the people they love and care about, while simultaneously needing to honor their boundaries and take care of themselves.”

Francis says we can set up expectations and agreements with our friends about the best ways to support each other. Some people are totally willing to drop everything at any time to support a friend.

Some people are only this with certain friends. Others may only be able to offer this type of prioritization and support depending on their own mental state.

Just with any relationship, a conversation can help clarify what you each want and need.

“Simply because someone is our friend does not mean we are entitled to their emotional and energetic space at random,” Mancao says. “It’s important that we don’t take this personal or to mean anything negative about the friendship.”

For the person who is being asked to provide support at a time when you’re not able to do so, Mancao says it’s okay to offer another time where you’ll follow up.

This can still be an act of care for the friend in need: “By them setting the boundary and saying ‘I can’t be there for you right now,’ they are also communicating to you that you deserve to have a fully present and emotionally available person at your side, and they cannot be that at this moment,” she says. “They still respond with warmth and care even when they are unable to hold space at the requested moment.”

3. Boundaries don’t make us more individualistic; they make us more empathetic. 

“It is not the sign of an individualist culture to care about the emotional and mental capacity of those around us—on the contrary, it is an example of empathy, a necessary part of living interdependently,” Francis explains.

If you’re the friend who needs support, it can be hard, sometimes impossible, to consider the needs of the friend who you want help from. But friendship is a two-way street.

“Everyone is dealing with their own issues, and sometimes we can be triggered by other's stories or situations,” says marriage and family therapist Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT. “We need to be accountable for how we can contribute to our loved one's mental health.” 

“All of our relationships are opportunities to practice consent and compassion,” Francis adds.

“It isn't that we shouldn't expect care and emotional labor from our friends, but our friends do not exist to be on-call to fulfill our emotional demands the moment we want their support.

Asking if this is a good time to talk about certain material is a gentle way of negotiating for our needs.”

4. Both people are better off when the friend being asked to provide support is able to be fully engaged.

When you’re in crisis, you need someone who can really pay attention to you—not someone who is distracted or feeling emotionally fragile themselves. “It is crucial for whomever we talking with to be available to listen, understand and support,” Douglas explains. “The amount of support we will receive will be priceless versus them not engaging or looking interested in our conversation.”

The bottom line? When we're in crisis, it doesn't mean we have the right to pull our friends into crisis too. Friendship does mean feeling able to ask for help, and it also means being understanding with each other when we can't always be there.


Friendship and mental health

Ask a Therapist: Do I Have to Keep Listening to a Friend Who Always Has a Crisis?

Friendship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health. Our friends can keep us grounded, help us get things in perspective, and help us manage the problems that life throws at us.

*Last updated: 13 August 2021

«The best thing my friend did for me was that they just accepted me as I was.»

«They kept coming to see me even though I didn't seem to want them and they made me laugh.»

If we’re experiencing a mental health problem, our instinct might be to hide away and avoid our friends. But friendships can play a key role in helping us live with or recover from a mental health problem and overcome the isolation that often comes with it. We can end up with the strongest relationships with the people who’ve supported us through hard times.

This page looks at:

  • talking to friends about your mental health
  • supporting a friend with a mental health problem.

Both can be difficult to do, so we have tips on how to start a conversation, offer support, and look after yourself.

Talking to friends about your mental health

If you have a mental health problem, you may feel ashamed of 'admitting' to it. You may feel that you’re bothering or upsetting your friend, fear being labelled, or worry about how your friendship might change.

You don't have to tell your friends — and you certainly don't have to tell everyone. Think about who you might feel comfortable talking to. It might help to write a list of the pros and cons of telling or not telling people about your problem.

Tough as it can be, talking to close friends can be important for both of you.

Even if you don't talk about it again, having the issue out in the open means that you don't have to worry about mentioning your mental health problem by accident or 'explain away' medication or appointments. It may also make clear why you’re behaving in a particular way or why you don't want to go out or talk to them much.

«I wanted my friends to know so they…would cut me some slack if I behaved oddly.»

How do I tell my friend?

You may want to practise your opening sentence or you may want to play it by ear. Choose a time and a place where you will both feel comfortable. Think about whether:

  • the place is quiet or noisy, indoors or outside
  • you’re on your own or among other people, for instance in a pub or cafe
  • you’re doing an activity together, such as going for a walk, or just sitting down for a chat.

You could phone or write to your friend if it’s easier than talking to them face to face.

Understanding mental health problems can be difficult, despite how common they are. Be ready for your friend to be shocked or react badly. They may feel awkward and not know how to respond.

This may be because they feel so worried about you or perhaps your news has struck a chord with something in their own life. They may even suggest that you're fine and just need to 'pull yourself together'.

Give them time to process what you’ve said.

Most people don't know very much about mental health issues so it may be a good idea to tell your friend about the problem itself, but don't overwhelm them. You could show them a book or website that’s helped you understand what you’re experiencing.

Getting help from people other than friends

If you don't feel that turning to a friend is an option, there are other forms of informal help.

Self-help and peer support groups are often useful. By sharing your experiences, you can support other people and learn about how they cope with challenging situations.

You could join a group centred around an activity: a book group, a chess club or an exercise class.

If you don't want to join a group, try going to places where there are lots of people such as a library, leisure centre or café. You don't have to talk to anyone if you don't want to, but just being around other people can help you feel more connected.

Online communities can also be supportive, whether or not they are focused around mental health problems. Mind’s online community, Side by Side, is a place you can listen, share and be heard.

Supporting a friend who has a mental health problem

If you're the friend of someone with a mental health problem, you may be concerned about them. The most important thing is to show them that you're still their friend and you care about them, whether that’s through your words, a hug, or another way that conveys how you feel.

«My friend asked me questions, didn't just assume things, she really wanted to know.»

How can I support my friend?

«My friend realised I had taken an overdose and rang for an ambulance… but has never judged me or criticised my action.»

The most valuable support you can provide is just being there to talk and listen. Making time to call, text, visit or invite someone over can make a big difference.

Mental health problems can be misunderstood. Simply acknowledging your friend’s problem, accepting them and treating them with compassion is important.

«My friend phoned me, talked to me about normal stuff, sent me letters, took me out sometimes.»

Your friend isn't looking for another mental health professional – they just want your support as a friend. They’re ly to want to keep things as normal as possible, even if you need to adapt some of the activities you used to do together (for example, because they feel anxious in big groups, or their medication makes them tired in the evenings).

Remember that someone who insists that they're fine may actually be in a bad way. They may just need to talk or they may need professional help. Men are often particularly reluctant to talk about emotional issues. Time to Change has tips for talking to someone about their mental health, which can be as simple as asking someone if they’re sure if they tell you they’re feeling fine.

Practical help can be valuable too. Cleaning, shopping and basic household tasks can seem impossible to someone who is having a difficult time. Ask your friend what they need: it could be going to appointments with them, helping them manage their finances or finding information about therapies and services, for example.

I’m supporting a friend but I’m feeling overwhelmed

Some people reach the point where, instead of being a friend, they feel they've become more of a carer.

You may feel responsible for your friend and worry about what would happen if you weren't around. It can be painful and embarrassing — on both sides — to admit that this is happening.

But there are things you can do to look after yourself and rebalance the friendship. For example:

  • Take a break if you need to – some time to yourself can help you feel refreshed.
  • Set clear boundaries to the support you can give. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you’re rejecting someone: it just means you’re being realistic about what you can and can’t do.
  • Share your role with others, if you can. Knowing other people are there to support your friend can take the pressure off you.
  • Talk about how you’re feeling. Be careful how much you share about the friend you’re supporting, but talking about your feelings can help you feel supported too.

«I gave my friend a lot of support and at times felt close to burning out. Now that my friend has recovered we are closer than before. However, I worry that I might not be able to cope with another episode.»


6 Do’s and Don’ts for Supporting Someone Who Has Depression

Ask a Therapist: Do I Have to Keep Listening to a Friend Who Always Has a Crisis?

You’ve noticed some changes in your friend that concern you.You’re not sure if it’s depression or just a bad few days, but you want tohelp. So where do you start?

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Clinical psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, gives some strategies that can help you provide support.

How can you tell if someone is dealing with depression?

Depression touches most Americans, whether they experience it personally or it affects someone they know. In fact, The National Institute of Mental Health reports it’s one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States — an estimated 17.3 million adults were living with depression in 2017.

So how can you tell if a friend is just a bit sad or hassomething deeper brewing? “There certainly are telltale signs,” Dr. Borlandnotes. “But since you don’t necessarily see that person every day, you may haveto do more detective work.”

He recommends watching for behavioral changes or anything that could be character for your friend. Some depression symptoms include:

  • Lack of engagement:They lose interest in activities they used to enjoy or want to hang out less.
  • Change in communication patterns: Youused to chat or hang on the regular, and now they’re MIA.
  • Changes in hygiene and sleepingpatterns: They’re sleeping less — or all the time. Their appearance andhygiene no longer seem to be a priority.
  • Displays of sadness or anger: Theirtemper now has a hairpin trigger, or maybe they seem more down than usual.
  • Withdrawal from social outlets:They’re missing from activities where they were formerly fixtures.

How to help someone with depression

Dr. Borland recommends some do’s and don’ts to get the conversation going:

Do: Practice assertive communication

Rather than making depression taboo, talk openly with yourfriend about your concerns. Dr. Borland recommends cultivating the art ofassertive communication: You take ownership of your feelings and concerns andcommunicate them without finger-pointing. And you listen and provide yourfriend with unconditional emotional support.

To do this, practice using “I”statements. “Begin sentences with, ‘I’m worried,’ ‘I’m concerned’ or ‘I’ve noticed.’Then explain your concerns to your friend,” he suggests. “Avoid saying, ‘Youdon’t seem yourself,’ or ‘You haven’t been hanging out as much as youusually do.’ They can create defensiveness in the person receiving the message.”

Do: Show empathy

Put yourself in your friend’s shoes in a nonjudgmentalway. Think about how you would feel if you were coping with symptoms ofdepression and how you would want friends to react. Maintain eye contact whenlistening, and say things , “That sounds hard. I’m sorry you are goingthrough this,” and “I’m always here for you.”

“And if you’ve dealt with depression yourself, self-disclosure can be very powerful,” Dr. Borland points out. “You’re giving your friend a gift by opening yourself up and sharing that you understand.’”

By responding to your friend in an open and empathetic way,you show them that they aren’t a burden.

Do: Set boundaries

It’s OK to be specific about when you can — or can’t — bethere for your friend. For example, let your friend know that it’s better foryou to talk after your kids are in bed. And don’t accept abusive or violentbehavior. If they don’t stop, do what’s best for your health and safety.  

Self-care is also key. Monitor your own health and well-being so you have something to give when the going gets tough. Supporting someone with depression can take a lot you. Learn your limits and when it’s time to recharge your batteries. Explain to your friend that while you’re there for them, a mental health professional has the training and tools needed to effectively treat them.

Do: Be patient

There is no quick fix for depression. The recovery processtakes time. You’re less ly to get frustrated with, or give up on, yourfriend if you’re hunkered down for the long haul.

Don’t: Think you can fix it

Recognize that supporting your friend does not mean fixingtheir problems. A person with depression often needs treatment to seeimprovement — and that’s something only a medical professional can provide.  

Don’t: Give up

But what if your friend rejects your efforts even when you’vedone all the right things?

“Their rejection may be a defense mechanism. They realizeyou’re recognizing their symptoms and that they’re not doing as good a jobhiding them as they thought,” explains Dr. Borland. “It’s easy to reactnegatively to a friend who’s unwilling to get help. But stick with them andmaintain communication. Continue to check in on your friend and encourage themto get help.”

Dr. Borland also recommendstrying to be there with your friend instead of for your friend. “Itmeans I’m in this with you, even if you push me away,” he says.

What to do if your friend has suicidal thoughts

If you are concerned your friend may harm themselves,don’t dismiss your gut. Instead:

  • Pay attentionto anything said about suicide, other forms of self-harm or a world thatdoesn’t include them.
  • Keep the lines of communication openso they know they can talk to you when they have these feelings.  
  • Encourage themto get professional help.

That help may include outpatient therapy and psychotropic medications prescribed by their primary care doctor or a psychiatrist. If you think your friend is in immediate danger, call 911 or take your friend to the nearest emergency department.

Remember: Your friend’s situation is not hopeless. other illnesses, depression can be treated with the right medical help and the support of friends you.


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